An Interview with Author Maureen Healy
With the National Institute of Mental Health reporting that 25 percent of children experience anxiety and 14 percent have a mood disorder, and National Public Radio sharing that as many as five million public school students have mental-emotional issues such as depression and anxiety, award-winning Maureen Healy’s new book The Emotionally Healthy Child: Helping Your Child Calm, Center, and Make Smarter Choices (New World Library, October 9 2018) couldn’t be more perfectly timed.
In The Emotionally Healthy Child, Healy explains that emotional health is the ability to make better choices, even when feeling anger or another big emotion. She describes that the ability to — Stop, Calm, and Make a Smarter Choice — are key to expressing emotions constructively. While not always easy, these steps are powerful, and Healy shows readers exactly how to implement them so they can help children find equilibrium in the moment and build emotional well-being over the long-term. I hope you’ll enjoy this Q and A with Maureen about the book.
How do you define an emotionally healthy child?
Children are all in the process of learning who they are, and how they relate to their feelings. But the emotionally healthy child is doing something differently – she is learning to pause and release her emotions constructively even if they’re challenging like anger or jealousy. She no longer is operating solely on “automatic” but is gaining emotional self-control and awareness. This allows her to express their full range of emotions constructively, while honoring each moment (not running from or ignoring it) for whatever it is.
In The Emotionally Healthy Child, you say that three simple steps have the power to change everything when it comes to emotional health. What are they and why are they important?
The “Three Steps to Success” are: 1) Stop, 2) Calm, and 3) Make a Smart Choice. The first step is where children learn to catch themselves before they go in negative and challenging directions, so they stop. Then they calm, before moving on to step three, which is making a smart choice — that is good for them and others. For example, if they’re angry, they might yell and find some relief from their anger. This is good for them, but certainly not for others. But what if they took some deep breaths and walked away, this would be good for them and others, therefore a smart choice. As simple as these steps sound, they have the power to help children begin moving in a more constructive and emotionally healthier direction whether they’re feeling angry, frustrated, disappointed or worried. They apply to all emotions and are a theme throughout the book to help children slow down and make smarter choices, even when they are emotionally charged.
Your book is full of practical tools for parents, teachers and professionals to teach children about how to healthfully express their emotions. Can you share one of those tools with us?
Yes, The Emotionally Healthy Child is full of practical strategies and tools to help children regain their emotional balance and make smarter choices. I will share one I call the “Smart Choices Checklist,” which helps children identify what smart choices are, and what they look like at home or school. For example, Joshua has trouble on the playground and hasn’t been making smart choices, so his teacher led his classroom in the creation of a smart choices checklist. Smart choices are defined as good for you and good for others. So instead of pushing children, Joshua identified several smart choices that he can make when he’s feeling frustrated such as: 1. Walk Away, 2. Use my Words, 3. Take Deep Breaths, and/or 4. Go to the Library. Before this discussion, Joshua wasn’t clear on what he could do when he’s frustrated, but now he goes to the library more and reads Mr. Underpants, which he loves.
In your book, you said if we don’t learn how to slow down and stop in the middle of habitual patterns or behavior, nothing changes. How can we teach our children to learn how to catch themselves in those situations?
The first step in the “Three Steps to Success” is to stop and catch yourself before making a not-so smart choice. This is the skill of self-awareness. Mindfulness practices help a child learn how to pay attention, which helps develop this skill. When a child becomes aware of what they’re doing, they can learn how to stop and with practice, they can make a smarter choice. Of course, children can also learn to catch themselves by seeing the adults around them catch ourselves and show them (versus telling them) how to stop, calm and make those smarter choices despite habitual patterning.
What do you most hope readers will take away from your book The Emotionally Healthy Child?
My aim is that parents, teachers and professionals will understand more deeply what children need to learn (the ideas), and do (strategies) to help them become emotionally healthier and ultimately, happier.
Maureen Healy is the author of The Emotionally Healthy Child and Growing Happy Kids, which won the Nautilus and Readers’ Favorite book awards in 2014. A popular Psychology Today blogger and sought-after public speaker, Maureen runs a global mentoring program for elementary-aged children and works with parents and their children in her busy private practice. Visit her online at www.growinghappykids.com.
Excerpted from the book The Emotionally Healthy Child. Copyright ©2018 by Maureen Healy. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.